Sawgrass Prairie

Everglades National Park


Hi! Helloooo! Welcome to your first wetland. You just dropped 1-3 feet in elevation. Actually, I think my ears are popping a little bit. This is the habitat that puts glades in the Everglades and grass in River of Grass. This is the Sawgrass Prairie. What do you think? Where is this river? Awww, good question! You are standing in it right now. Ohhhh. Really!? The river is not flowing so much right now. We are in the peak dry season which lasts from about November to April. Water levels are very low in the limestone basement underneath the prairie. But, the rains will come with the summer wet season. The sheetflow of water oozes over and through the limestone and prairie. It is a river that is not in any particular hurry. No rapids or gushing or anything like that. When can I see this river that isn’t really a river? Sawgrass prairie can have water for an average of 8-10 months. Come back during the summer wet season from about May to October to see the river. Now, about that grass. It is actually a sedge. Most sedges have edges, SEE! And, it is THE dominant vegetation in the sawgrass prairie. Ohhh! Waaaaait!! It is called sawgrass for a reason. If you look at it closely you see the edges of this plant are made up of tiny upward pointing teeth. You have to touch it from the base to the tip so you won’t get cut. Deer will not eat the top of the plant. But, they will eat the white bulb at the bottom of the plant. It is stringy like celery, but it does not really taste like anything. So, deer live here, but what else? Animals like to take cover or sleep in the dense sawgrass but they forage and move around in the open sawgrass. Now, in the more open sawgrass, there are two very popular homes. One is the alligator hole. Alligator hole! Alligators dig a deeper depression in the prairie which becomes a watery oasis during the dry season. Like this one right here! These water holes become critical homes for a whole community of life. Including fish, the alligator’s favorite food. That would be like all my favorite foods coming to live and grow around my house. This prairie oasis is also popular with mammals, birds, and turtles. The other popular home in the open sawgrass prairie is periphyton. It is made up of different kinds of algae. It is at the base of the Everglades food chain. It feels so squishy and gooey. It is a really pretty color. It is light brown with little splashes of green and blue around it. Periphyton is a producer because it gets its energy directly from the sun. Small fish and invertebrates, like apple snails, eat the periphyton. So, the apple snail is a primary consumer because it gets its energy from plants. Up the food chain, the endangered Florida Snail Kite eats apple snails. So, the snail kite is a... ...secondary consumer. Riiight! Sawgrass prairie needs one more ingredient to maintain its title in the River of Grass. Fire! What, where!? This prairie is dominated by sawgrass when it is properly maintained by fire. In fact, this prairie just burned two months ago. Look around for evidence of fire. Beneficial wildfires sweep across the sawgrass prairie even when there is standing water. So, if you think about it, fire flows much like water over these prairies. Fire keeps out intruding trees and cattails. The ash from burning sawgrass provides a flush of nutrients in an otherwise nutrient-poor environment. Lush, green shoots of sawgrass emerge quickly after fires. The tender young sawgrass becomes a food buffet for animals. For thousands of years, fires have been ignited in the Everglades by lightning and people. The sawgrass prairie is visible all around the Everglades. There are many places in South Florida where the sawgrass prairie is gone. This road and water control structure really interrupts the flow of water to the River of Grass. This interruption has consequences for all the prairie dwellers from the alligators to the apple snails. Do you know what this is? Looks like a dry and thirsty sawgrass prairie. Yes, that gray mud is dry periphyton, or marl soil. So, what did you think of the River of Grass? You know, instead of calling it a River of Grass, it should be called a River of Oozing Water and Flowing Fire. OK, you get it. Thanks for showing me the sawgrass prairie. You know, it was a lot cooler than I thought it was going to be! Have fun at your next habitat.


Explore the dynamic sawgrass prairie habitat with Ranger Christeal and Laura.


9 minutes, 12 seconds


NPS Video by Jennifer Brown

Date Created


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